Social networks provide a space for people to interact, learn from each other and share bits and pieces of their life. While there’s little limit to what is shared online, sharing too much information can lead to harmful consequences.

Social media threats are found on any social network, so users should be aware of what they are and what they look like to avoid them. These scams affect the privacy of your account, so it’s important to take security precautions to protect yourself and your personal data. 

Keep reading to learn more about different social media threats and how to be a safer social media user.

What Is a Social Media Threat?

Hacker on a laptop being circled by popular social media logos.

A social media threat encompasses actions that jeopardize an individual’s or organization’s social media account. As many social media users post or share personal details online, they can be easily taken advantage of by attackers seeking to use their information for money or blackmail. 

These threats emerge in different forms, including impersonations, online harassment and malware. Below are some of the most common social media threats used by attackers to gain access to information.

1. Identity Theft

Identity theft is a common social media threat that can happen to anyone who has shared images or personal information online. Impersonation happens when someone uses public information and pictures to create a fake online profile to pretend either they are that person or create a new persona entirely. 

Identity theft is extremely harmful if the impersonator gains access to your bank accounts or tricks others into sending them money. Identity theft also includes gaining access to your social media accounts and posting content to scam sites, which puts other users at risk of being taken advantage of.

2. Cyberbullying

Roughly 40% of Americans have experienced some form of cyberbullying, which includes harmful and damaging posts, messages or content shared either directly to a user or publicly. Cyberbullying also happens anonymously. 

To better protect yourself against online harassment, keep your account in private mode and be selective of your online followers or friends. Report instances of cyberbullying to the social media platform to get any malicious posts flagged and removed.

Many social networks, like Instagram, have community guidelines in place that have a no-tolerance policy for actions that fall under the cyberbullying umbrella.

3. Fake Giveaways

Many brands are turning to social networks to promote their products and services. Giveaways are cost-effective and reach a wider audience with promoted posts. 

To grow awareness, brands often promote giveaways of their products to followers. According to Easypromos, nearly 93% of brands surveyed run giveaways on their social networks to gain more traffic and clicks to their site. 

While these giveaways may seem too good to be true, sometimes they really are. Scammers will create fake brand profiles that promote giveaways for followers to enter and submit their personal information. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported over 148,000 accounts of prize, sweepstakes and lottery fraud.

4. Likejacking

Likejacking is a crafty scam hackers use to force users to click the “like” button on a post or page without them knowing they did it. 

For instance, users will see an interesting image or video and want to click on it to view more information. What the user doesn’t know is the scammers hid a “like” button behind the image or video so they can’t see they’re clicking it. You’ll then start seeing more of these images pop up and overload your social feeds.

5. Phishing Scams

Phishing is a method used by scammers to collect personal information through online messages, emails, links and spoof websites. These messages appear to be sent by a professional company or trusted source, like a bank or credit card company. 

Hackers send phishing messages to trick the recipient into sending over contact information like password details or credit card account information. These messages may contain malicious links for hackers to gain access to the target’s computers or infect it with a virus. 

Never reply to these types of messages or click suspicious links unless you requested the link or recognize the phone number or email address they come from. For example, check your bank’s customer service phone number or email to make sure it matches. Contact customer service directly to confirm they sent the message to you.

6. Data Breach

A data breach is a harmful cyberattack that occurs when a hacker gains access to confidential information. Data breaches can affect any size or type of organization or business. 

For individuals, this includes access to Social Security numbers, credit card accounts and health care information. For larger organizations, this can include client lists or employee health information.  

If someone accesses these types of data illegally, the target organization may face serious legal trouble. If the data breach causes a violation of any compliance mandates, the affected organization could receive fines and litigation. Depending on the severity of the breach, the company could even lose the right to operate.

7. Malware 

Malware is designed as a code or file that transfers over to a user’s computer to infect it or steal personal information.  

Malware pops up in all forms, but it’s especially popular to use with fake news posts or videos. The scammer’s goal is for the user to click on the falsified news story, which is riddled with a malware virus that can compromise the user’s device or social media account. 

Malware can also show up in fake websites or domains. You may be asked to download a file to access the site, but the file is actually malware, and by downloading it you’ve given the virus (and the person who created it) access to your device.

For example, let’s say a site has a video that “requires” a software update to view it. Double-check that the site is legitimate before downloading anything. If you’re not sure, it’s best to leave the site to avoid any possibility of malware.

8. Brand Impersonation 

Not even brands are safe from social media threats. Scammers might create a social media account to impersonate a brand and contact customers under the guise that they are the legitimate company. 

The attacker’s goal is to either receive personal information from recipients, like account login details, or share messages that harm the brand’s reputation.

9. Affiliate Scams

To round out our list are affiliate scams on social media. Some companies create affiliate programs to contract social media influencers, who are required to post content about the company, and in return earn commission on products or services they sell through their affiliate link. 

Companies use affiliate marketing to drive traffic to their website and earn revenue. However, you will likely come across affiliate marketing content that isn’t real. 

Scammers may post content that appears to be an advertisement offering a free gift card, requiring users to enter their personal email address to receive the gift card. But instead of receiving the gift card, the user is gifted an unending amount of spam emails, some of which may even contain malware.

How Do Social Media Threats Occur? 

Social media threats occur when a user’s personal information and details are accessed online by hackers and scammers. Fraudsters tend to attack accounts that have little security and users who aren’t aware of the dangers of cyberattacks.

How Do You Prevent Social Media Threats?

Ad blockers, login credentials, and social media knowledge can help you avoid social media threats.

The best way to prevent social media risks from knocking on your digital door is by knowing how to spot them and being proactive about your online safety. Below are a few ways to ward off social media threats: 

  • Ad blockers: Most organizations recommend or request that employees use ad blockers online, and it’s a good idea outside of work, too. Ad blockers eliminate random pop-ups that could contain malware. 
  • Filter friend requests: Never accept a friend request from someone you don’t know, even if you have mutual friends. 
  • Update passwords frequently: Updating your login credentials regularly and choosing strong passwords will decrease the chances of a hacker figuring out your password. With that, never share your passwords with anyone. 

It’s also best practice to keep educating yourself and others about online threats and scams, as attackers constantly update their tactics to keep tricking unsuspecting users.

6 Tips for Using Social Networks Safely 

Whether you touch base on social media periodically or use it every day, it’s important to practice safe online habits and protect yourself from hackers and spammers. Below are several tips to better protect yourself, your kids and your devices.

1. Install a Security Solution

Install a security solution, like antivirus software, with proactive technologies on the computer. You’ll be protected against malicious codes that spread through these networks, even if no previous attack has been launched.

2. Keep Your Computer Up to Date

Users must be aware of and resolve all the vulnerabilities that affect the programs installed on the computer.

Keep up with software updates for your internet browser and other programs on your computer. These updates include security fixes to keep hackers from accessing your information. Some programs even offer the option of automatic updates if you tend to forget.

3. Don’t Share Confidential Information

 If you access forums and chats to exchange information, talk, etc. remember not to provide confidential information like email addresses or login credentials.

If you do accidentally share login information, immediately update it with a strong password to avoid someone signing in to your account. Update your passwords regularly for the best protection.

4. Teach Children About Social Media

Children must know what information they shouldn’t share. That means parents must know the social networks their children access and teach them how to safely engage.

Promoting open communication about using social media can help your child feel more comfortable. Be open to their questions and concerns, and discuss how to have a healthy relationship with social networks.

5. Only Provide Necessary Information in Your Profile

When creating user profiles, only provide the information necessary. If it requests private data like an email address or age, choose the private profile mode to prevent other users from seeing the information, to ensure no users other than yourself and the administrator accesses your data.

6. Report Crimes

If you observe inappropriate or criminal behavior (like attempts to contact children, inappropriate photos, modified profiles, etc.), you must inform the social network administrators.

Online protection is important to us, and that’s why Panda Security provides cybersecurity services and tools that are used to prevent cyberattacks and threats to your devices. Panda Security’s antivirus software can not only protect against viruses, but protect your data, passwords, and browsing history.